January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. The theme for 2017 is “Prevent to Protect: Prevent Infections for baby’s protection.”

We know that not all birth defects can be prevented. Mothers can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by reducing the risk of getting an infection during pregnancy.

Expectant mothers can take some simple steps to reduce their chances of infection, including:

Properly prepare your food.

Make sure to wash your hands while preparing food.

Don’t eat raw or runny eggs or raw sprouts.

Avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese.

Talk to your healthcare provider

Find out what you can do to prevent infections like the Zika virus.

Make sure you’re up to date on vaccinations.

Protect yourself from disease-carrying animals and insects

Stay away from wild or pet rodents, lizards, turtles, and live poultry. Don’t clean the cat’s litter box while pregnant.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks by wearing long sleeves and pants and using Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents with DEET.

Maintain good hygiene

Wash your hands often with soap and water.

Along with avoiding infections, things like regular medical checkups, controlling medical conditions like diabetes, and stopping the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs can greatly diminish the chance of your baby developing a birth defect.

The other great method is taking Folic Acid, which can prevent up to 70% of neural tube defects including spina bifida and anencephaly. You should start taking Folic Acid 3-12 months before getting pregnant and throughout the pregnancy.

You can learn more about National Birth Defects Prevention Month at the National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s website www.nbdpn.org.